Almea


You may be wondering, or if not you should: what’s my next book?

It’s books. But the next one should be my Quechua reference grammar.

cusco-market

Based on some quick quizzes on Twitter and the ZBB, it seemed that people are more interested in a reference grammar than a textbook. Which is good, because I more or less have one! I wrote the grammar (and a dictionary) for my own use when I was studying Quechua in the 1990s.

It needs quite a bit of work yet, partly to make the text as good as possible, and partly because I need to go over some of the source materials in much more detail. But, that work is underway now.

If you’ve been following the blog, you’ve probably seen that I’m also doing research on the Middle East. Now, in theory this should be no harder than distilling all of India or China into a book. But, well, it isn’t. China is largely the story of one people and language. India is much more miscellaneous, but it’s mostly one civilization, whatever exactly that means. I could cover everything from Sumer to Khomeini in one volume, but it would mean compressing each bit into near unrecognizability.

So, my current idea is two books. One will cover the Ancient Middle East— concentrating on Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Persia, more or less up to Alexander. (That is, I don’t expect to cover Egypt or Anatolia in detail.) That’s certainly doable. After all, histories of Mesopotamia alone have to cover a lot of this material, because its empires were all over the Levant, and were eventually conquered by Persia. And most of the area was occupied by Semitic speakers, and shared a good deal of culture and cosmology. The obvious languages to cover would be Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hebrew.

There are a couple of really interesting puzzles to cover:

  • How did agriculture get started, and more importantly, why? People seemed happier without it.
  • How did one unimportant subgroup of Semites, of the same language and culture as the entire Levant, come up with a fervent monotheism?

Naturally, the latter question could take over the whole book, but I don’t intend to let it. I just read a history of ancient Israel, and though it’s interesting, what I crave is precisely the larger context. The Bible, and thus most historians, present Israel as somehow totally distinct from their neighbors. But they weren’t, at all; they basically spoke the same language, and indeed if you read a little closer they actually had enormous trouble keeping separate from those neighbors. And then there’s the tantalizing Persian connection— they interacted closely with the other monotheistic religion in the area. More on that later.

Book Two would cover the same area from about 600 to the present. That’s mostly the Islamic era, but also includes the very interesting 600s, when the age-old war between the Byzantines and Persians heated up, well, more than it ever had. The languages covered would be Persian and probably Arabic.

Clever people may note that there’s a gap of nearly a millennium in between. That’s intentional. I expect to cover the Persian part of the story, but what’s missing is the Greeks and Romans, and early Christianity. That’s nowhere near as new to most of my readers, I think; and covering them would require a different base area anyway.

Now, that’s plenty to do, but one day recently I woke up with my head full of Xurno. That is, I was thinking about the plot for Diary of the Prose Wars, my unfinished Almean novel. I read over the material I had. I think it’s in worse shape than I remembered, but that’s fine. The real problem was the plot, and I worked on that a bit. (For what it’s worth, it does focus the mind a bit when one’s own country is going to pot. “Oh, that’s how awful authoritarian regimes are formed.”) This won’t be a high priority, but apparently my subconscious was working on it, and I look forward to seeing it do some more.

 

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After 20 years, I’ve rewritten the Verdurian reference grammar.

fl-verd.jpg

The main motivation was my syntax book.  I want to be able to tell conlangers how modern syntax can deepen your conlang, and I figured I should make sure I have a really good example.

Now, you’ll see that I did it without drawing a single syntactic tree. That never seemed to be necessary, though I do have some discussion of transformations, and I mark subclauses and talk about underlying forms. The main influence of modern syntax is in adding more syntactic stuff, and thinking more about how things interrelate.

To put it another way, if you don’t know much modern syntax, you’ll write one relative clause and call it a day.  But once you’re familiar with syntax, you start to think about what you can relativize, and how nonrestrictive relative clauses work, and headless clauses, and what’s the underlying form for headless time clauses, and such things.

I also took the opportunity to add glosses to all the examples, provide a new long sample text, redraw the dialect map, add new mathematical terminology, add pragmatic particles, and in general update the presentation to how I write grammars these days. I also html-ized the Verdurian short story I translated long ago. And subcategorize all the verbs in the dictionary. And provide margins.

FWIW, though much of the content is similar, it’s all been rewritten– I very rarely simply copied-and-pasted. Plenty of little things have been added, and some old bits removed. (E.g. the descriptions of the dialects, which I hope to expand on in more detail.)

An example of a little change: the morphology section no longer goes case by case, a method that makes it hard to look up forms.  And I changed the expository order to nom – acc – dat – gen, which makes it easier to see when the nom/acc forms are the same. (If it’s good enough for Panini, it’s good enough for me.)

Verdurian is still not my favorite language (that would be “whatever language I created last”), but the problems are mostly lexical.  And it’s a little too late to redo the vocabulary yet again.  At least I can say I’m pretty happy with the syntax now…

 

 

 

I’ve been working on a few projects. One is making flags for the nations of Ereláe. You can see what I’ve done so far here.

flagexx

Rather more surprising: I’ve been translating a French novel. No, you haven’t heard of it; that’s why I’m translating it. 🙂  I hope the author won’t mind my naming it: it’s Damien Loch by Shan Millan. It’s a fantasy novel,  but a rather satirical and contrarian one. It’s more or less “What if your asshole neighbor turned out to come from another world… but he was still an asshole?”

One of the fascinating bit about translating is how styles and wording differ between even quite similar languages. Conlangers, take note! One way to put it is: if the word-for-word gloss from your language sounds just like English, you probably haven’t worked out your language’s style enough.

For me at least, the problem is that reading the French original, the French style starts to sound natural, and the English ends up strange and wooden. So of course I have to go over the English and make it sound, well, English.

In return, Shan is translating the Language Construction Kit— the book— into French! I tried to do this myself a few years ago, and didn’t get very far, mostly because of the same style problem. I could make a French version myself, but it would be horribly awful. 

Anyway, this will eventually be very exciting for English fantasy fans, and French conlangers.

The other project came out of my work on syntax: I decided to finally update the Verdurian grammar. In the syntax book I want to explain how you can use modern syntax to inform your conlang’s grammar, you see, and I thought I’d better do it myself first. (Not that there wasn’t syntax in the grammar before, but now there’s more.)

I’ve also taken the opportunity to make the grammar easier, and harder. Easier, in that I can explain some things better, and get rid of what I now think are confusing presentations. (Also, there will be glosses for all the examples, a practice I now think is indispensable.) Harder, in that I don’t feel that I have to explain basic linguistics in every grammar, especially since the ‘easy’ route is already there in the form of guided lessons.

(No finish date yet, but it shouldn’t be too long.)

(I’m also hoping to include actual Verdurian text, for people who have the right font.)

I’ve basically redone the Almeopedia. You can find it here.  The help page is here.

ticai-alchemy-shop

The old version (which is still up, for now) has had a speed problem for a long time. Just loading a page took 40 seconds, which made browsing painful and editing almost impossible.

I’ve been redoing pages (like the numbers page) by using Javascript to process big raw text files, and I used the same method here. It runs lightning-fast on my computer. The first few links may be slow when you try the above link, but it should speed up once the files are in your cache.

Since it’s now my code, I was able to do some side features:

  • shortcuts for the Unicode letters I use
  • changes to facilitate the historical atlases
  • SFW mode (makes the pictures tiny and adds business-friendly nonsense titles)
  • improvements to the choose-your-own-adventure section
  • customizations to the Wiki markup to eliminate busywork

There’s about 3 meg of raw text.  I’m amazed at how fast Javascript can plow through it (e.g. if you do a text search).  I skipped some optimizations I could have done simply because it’s good enough as it is.

I also took the opportunity to put the Historical Atlas of Skouras into Almeopedia. The old version was in Flash, which is deprecated these days.

Unfortunately, the new version isn’t externally editable.  Still, if you find errors or think something should be added, shoot me an e-mail.

There are undoubtedly errors and bugs… I copied all the text by hand, but I haven’t yet checked each page.  But, one of the purposes of the project was to make it easy to revise what’s there and put out lots of new material.

 

 

I had these drawing studies for my last gods picture and thought they might be an interesting process story.

The nice thing about these gods, Nečeron and Eši, is that they have things they can do. Nečeron is god of craft, so he can be building. Eši is god of art, so she can be doing art. But just that would be a little boring. From somewhere, but undoubtedly influenced by M.C. Escher, came the idea of each creating the structure that’s holding up the other.

Here are some doodles trying to make it work:

Nech-1

Nečeron’s bit is easy: he’s creating whatever Eši is standing on. (It starts as a table.) But what is she painting? Maybe some sort of framework holding up the platform he’s sitting on?  That’s the lower left drawing; it looked cumbersome.  Maybe a ladder (bottom right), but then he only has one hand free to work. Finally I tried a set of stairs, and that worked.

Here’s the second attempt at that:

Nech-2

I decided that the concept worked, but now ran into the next problem: I can’t really draw this scene out of my own brain. The figures here don’t look terrible, but the proportion and placement of the limbs was difficult, and the blobs representing the hands hide the fact that the concept requires four iterations of my personal drawing bugbear: hands holding objects.

(These are sketches, and would certainly have been improved if I kept working on them. But one thing I’ve learned is that poor proportions do not improve by rendering them really well. Better to get the sketch right.)

I tried looking for photos online, but getting these specific poses would be difficult.

Taking reference photos, however, is easy! I have an iPad! Here’s the pictures as they appear in Photoshop, with the sketch done right on top of them.

Nech-3

Who’s the model?  Oh, just some guy who’s available very cheaply.

If you compare this with the previous step, you can find an embarrassing number of errors in the original. E.g. Eši’s legs are way too small, the shoulder facing us is too low, and her neck is not drawn as if we’re looking up at her. Plus I think the final poses are far more dramatic.

I did the final outline over the purple sketch. Then the procedure is: select an area in the outline; fix the selection to make sure it includes everything I want, and fill it in on a separate color layer with a flat color.  Then go over each flat color area and use the airbrush to add shading. The bricks and stairs also get some texturing, added with filters. The jewelry is done on a separate layer with its own drop shadow— a cheap, quick way to add realistic shadows.

The gods aren’t wearing much.  That’s just how gods are, of course. On an operational level, there are two reasons for this (which we can assume are shared to some extent by Almean sculptors and painters).  The lofty level is that I like the human figure and hate to cover it up.  The less lofty reason is… clothes are frigging hard to draw. Figure drawing is hard enough, and clothing requires a whole new set of skills and rules of thumb, and looks terrible when you get it wrong. Plus, these are Caďinorian gods, so they should be wearing Caďinorian robes, which require, like, a black belt in drawing. They’re made of wrinkles. There’s a reason so many superheroes wear leotards: they’re basically drawn on top of the nude figure, with no folds.

The final picture:

god-Necheron-Eshi

Tonight, I like it; in a year, I’m sure it’ll dissatisfy me. Actually, when I look at it, I wonder if the angle of the iPad foreshortened the figures, making their feet proportionately too big. Oh well.

 

 

I hinted on Twitter awhile back that I was entirely rewriting a major bit of Almeology, and now it’s done!  It’s on what I used to call Caďinorian  paganism.

month-pagan

That was one of the first pages I put up, 19 years ago, and I’ve never been entirely happy with it. I’ve greatly expanded it, with more information on non-imperial versions of the religion, and much more detail on the actual mythology. Now you can learn what the heroes Maranh and Koleva actually did. Plus you can get married using actual Caďinor wedding vows.

The old version was pretty jokey, which can be fun, but it didn’t fit in with the rest of Almeology. (It was already toned down from the first version I wrote, probably during the original D&D campaign. Sadly, I can’t find that version right now— I hope it’s hiding in one of my cabinets.) The old version was also a little too influenced by G.K. Chesterton and his rumination on paganism from a Catholic perspective.

This project also involved finding etymologies for, and sometimes renaming, a bunch of minor gods and demons. The Verdurian names came with the original document, usually just invented without a meaning. Now most everything means something. (Occasionally this meant changing the Verdurian name— I hope you’re not too bothered that  Évetel, Leanota, and Urdelan are now Ávetu, Eduela, and Uřädec.)

There are a bunch of new pictures of gods.  Two gods are still missing, but I expect to add them in later.

Edit: Finished the last picture, and it’s the best yet!

As part of this project I needed to update the Verdurian and Caďinor dictionaries. I used to keep the lexicon in Word, output it as RTF, and use a program to convert that to HTML.  But upgrades to Word and to the Mac itself broke the system.  Instead, I adapted the code from my revamped numbers list, and generate the dictionaries on demand from a text file using Javascript.

The advantage for me is that I can keep them up to date easily.  The text files also take up less room than the old HTML files. And the advantage for you is that you can ask for just the words you need. Yes, you could use Ctrl-F before, but a listing of search results is far more informative and more likely to give you just the word you need. Plus codes are defined so you can enter all the diacritical marks.

I have a couple of side projects besides all of the India.  One is Ticai, the game I started working on a few years ago. Here’s what it looks like today.

ticai-square

You can compare this to the last look from… gulp… three years ago here. What’s changed?  A bunch of things:

  • A better skybox, rather than featureless blue.  Still needs to be redone, but at least I know how now.
  • Even more buildings, including the nice round temple on the left.
  •  The cobblestones are bump-mapped, so they don’t quite look like a flat texture slapped down on a flat surface.
  • Previously the streets were modular; I figured it would be easier for Unity to render them if there was only one copy of each unit.  Then I realized that the entire street grid has fewer polygons than a single human model. So now the whole grid is one model. This cleared up a lot of little alignment problems and makes the streets look better. It also allowed me to do things like put the tower on the right on a little hill.
  • The camera stays closer to Ticai. This makes it harder (though not impossible) to see through walls and such, which helps out a lot in some of the smaller spaces.

Unity has been upgraded to version 5.4, which broke a few things.  Most are fixed, but something has changed about the lighting which I haven’t figured out.  Ticai’s clothes don’t look smooth, nor does the round temple.  Unity used to correct for that, and I don’t know how to fix it yet.

There were some major bits of the city that weren’t done yet.  There is a whole underground that was only mocked up; it’s all finished now. I also added an alchemist’s shop:

ticai-alchemy-shop

I like the various jars and things. There’s even a microscope!   Not shown: the alchemist has a rather pretty globe of Almea.

I’m convinced that one reason games are so often late and buggy is that the developers spend half their time redoing things.  You make something quickish just to get it working (possibly learning how to do it at the same time). Then you learn how to do things better, get dissatisfied with what you did, rip it out and redo it.  For instance, Ticai’s feet:

ticaI-feet-changes

I half-assed her feet the first time… I figured I could suggest her toes using the texture, and it looks bad.  Finally I redid the toes, separating them in the model.  Plus I redid the ankles. Also her eyes: she has eyelids now, and blinks.  Her face still looks kind of weird, though, so I’ll have to work on that.

(The four toes are not a way of saving work: Ticai is Almean, so she really does have just four toes.)

I put the project aside before mostly because I was hung up on the writing side. The game is supposed to be a set of interlocked mysteries, which Ticai solves by running around and talking to people.  I want a really complex conversational engine, where you don’t have four options to choose from, but a hundred or more.  But of course that means a lot of writing, and even more testing, and I haven’t found a way to keep the amount of work under control.

The other project is a new conlang, something at least two or three of you have been waiting for patiently for years.  It’s Hanying, one of the language of the Incatena— in fact, the language of Areopolis, more or less Morgan’s native language.  I said it was “in origin a Chinese-English creole”, and it was… for the first half-century or so of its existence.  But it will be much weirder than that.  E.g., it suffered a series of phonological adaptations to new speakers twice, and it went through both some relexification and decreolization.  By the time it’s done I hope it really looks like something that survived a thousand years of change.

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